Political Prejudice Preventing Progress on Prison Health

Measures to improve the health of prisoners should be based on evidence not political prejudice, states an editorial in this weeks issue of The Lancet.


Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) distributed to all European ministries of health a report bringing together the wealth of evidence that shows infectious disease transmission in prisons can be prevented and even reversed by simple, safe, and cheap harm reduction strategies. However, while the public-health case for action is strong, political commitment for this method of combating health problems in prisons remains elusive, states the editorial. Most strategies for dealing with HIV in prisons focus on a zero-tolerance approach to drug users. The fact the infection rates are still climbing confirms that this approach does not work, but governments are reluctant to endorse alternative strategies. Some UN agencies, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, still question the efficacy of harm-reduction measures despite evidence to the contrary.


The Lancet comments, The failure of governments around the world to implement measures that have repeatedly been shown to reduce harm wastes a vital opportunity to improve the health of a population that is often beyond the reach of public-health efforts. This failure is utterly shameful... It is time for a global approach: to acknowledge the contribution of prison health to health inequalities; and to make prison health a priority by convincing governments that health policy must be based on evidence and not political prejudice.


Source: The Lancet